Leading with Trust

Spin Belongs in The Gym, Not The Workplace – 4 Ways to Increase Transparency

I have a motto when it comes to honesty and transparency at work: Spin belongs in the gym, not the workplace.

Spinning the truth is a way of shaping our communications to make our self, the company, or the situation appear better than it is in reality. It’s become so commonplace in the corporate world that many times we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We “spin” by selectively sharing the facts, overemphasizing the positive, minimizing the negative, or avoiding the obvious, all in an attempt to manipulate the perception of others. See if a few of these spins on the truth sound familiar:

  • “We are optimizing and rightsizing our human capital.” (aka, We are eliminating jobs and laying off people.)
  • “Quarterly revenue was adversely affected by marketplace dynamics.” (aka, We failed to hit our revenue goal.)
  • “Brian’s strength as a salesperson is developing creative business deals and client partnerships, as opposed to the tactical elements of his role.” (aka, We can’t or don’t want to hold Brian accountable for his administrative responsibilities as a salesperson because he brings in too much revenue.)

Spinning the truth is one of the most common ways leaders bust trust. It also leads to tremendous inefficiencies because people are confused about roles, they duplicate work, balls get dropped, and people resort to blaming others. Poor morale, cynicism, and political infighting become the norm when honesty and transparency are disregarded.

There are macro-level societal events and trends driving the need for greater transparency in the workplace. We’re all familiar with the digital privacy concerns related to the pervasiveness of technology in our lives, and we’ve witnessed the corporate scandals of blatant deceit and dishonesty that’s contributed to record low levels of trust. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency—the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.

But at the individual, team, and organization levels, what can we do to build greater trust, honesty, and transparency? I have four suggestions:

  1. Provide access to information. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and misinformation which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.
  2. Speak plainly. Avoid double-speak, and reduce or eliminate the use of euphemisms such as right-sizing, optimizing, gaining efficiencies, or other corporate buzzwords. When people hear these words, their BS detectors are automatically activated. They immediately start to parse and interpret your words to decipher what you really mean. Speak plainly in ways that are easily understood. Present complicated data in layman terms and focus on having a dialogue with people, not bombarding them with facts. Our team members are big boys and girls, they can handle the truth. Be a straight-shooter, using healthy doses of compassion and empathy when delivering tough news.
  3. Share criteria for making decisions. When it comes to making tough decisions, I believe that if people know what I know, and understand what I understand, they will be far more likely to reach the same (or similar) conclusion I did. Even if they don’t, they will usually acknowledge the validity of my decision-making criteria and respect that I approached the process with a clear and focused direction. Unfortunately, many times leaders are afraid to share information or their decision-making criteria because they don’t want to be second-guessed or exposed to legal risk. We’ve become so afraid of being sued or publicly criticized that we tend to only share information on a “need to know” basis. Sharing information on your decision-making process will help people buy into your plans rather than second-guessing them.
  4. Create communication forums. A lack of communication is often the root of dysfunction in organizations. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and no one seems to take ownership of making sure people are informed. Everyone likes to blame the Corporate Communications department for the lack of information sharing in the organization, but that blame is misplaced. Let me tell you who has the big “R” (responsibility) for communication—YOU! If you’re a leader, it’s your responsibility to create forums to share information with your team. Ultimately, this starts at the top. A President or CEO cannot delegate communications to some other function. It’s the top dog’s responsibility to ensure alignment all throughout the organization and the only way that starts is to frequently and openly communicate. The forums for communication are only limited by your imagination: town hall meetings, email updates, newsletters, video messages, department meetings, lunch gatherings, and team off-site events are just a few examples.

Spin is a great activity for the gym and it keeps you in fantastic shape. However, in the workplace, spin is deadly to your health as a leader. It leads to low trust, poor morale, and cynicism in your team. Keep spin in the gym and out of the workplace.

 

4 Ways to Get Your Followers to Know You as a REAL Person

keep it realIf you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.

This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:

  1. They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
  2. Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
  3. People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
  4. Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.

To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.

  • Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
  • Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
  • Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
  • Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.

Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

habitshabit [hab-it], noun — an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.

As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.

First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.

My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.

The Habits of Ability

  • Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
  • Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
  • Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.

The Habits of Integrity

  • Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
  • Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
  • Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.

The Habits of Benevolence

  • Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
  • Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
  • Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.

Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.

The Reason Why You Don’t Trust Your Team May Surprise You

baby_in_mirrorMaybe you’ve heard these types of phrases from leaders in the past, or to bring it closer to home, perhaps you’ve even uttered them yourself:

  • “I just can’t trust my team to complete the job to the quality I expect.”
  • “Deadlines always seem to be a moving target with my team.”
  • “I seem to be on a different wavelength with my team. I say one thing but they hear another.”
  • “I don’t always see or feel a sense of teamwork. We seem to be a collection of individuals rather than a unified team.”

Do any of those sound familiar? All of them can point to a lack of trust between the team leader and his/her team. But have you ever paused to consider why you don’t trust your team? It may not have anything to do with them. It might be you.

Trust doesn’t “just happen” in relationships. It takes intentional effort, and in a team setting, it’s up to the leader to cultivate the right environment for trust to flourish. If you find yourself not trusting your team, explore these three areas:

Trust Signals – Trust is developed through the use of specific behaviors, and based on a complex set of variables (our personality, early childhood upbringing, past experience, and our values, just to name a few), each of us is “tuned in” to certain behavioral signals that communicate trust. The challenge in a team environment is every person can be tuned in to different trust signals, so what communicates trust to you may be different than what communicates trust to someone else. It’s important to establish a common language of trust so that everyone is picking up the same signals. A helpful tool to get everyone on the same page of trust is the ABCD Trust Model. It takes the four elements of trust (competence, integrity, care, and dependability) and puts them in an easy to understand model that provides a common set of trust signals for everyone to use.

Mis-aligned Expectations – Many times the reason leaders don’t trust their teams is they haven’t done a good job of clarifying expectations. Leaders often assume the team knows the importance of the goal, the quality standards expected, or the deadline for completing the work. When the team doesn’t perform as expected, the leader jumps to the conclusion that the team can’t be trusted. Step back and reassess the situation. Did you verbalize your expectations and make them absolutely clear? Did you equip or train your team to meet those expectations? Did you provide the day-to-day coaching needed or did you just leave the team on its own? When expectations aren’t met, we have a habit of judging others by their actions but judging ourselves by our intent. Judge your team by their intent and explore whether or not your expectations were communicated clearly.

Lack of Vulnerability – Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. That leads to team members always playing a guessing game as to what the leader wants. People can’t do their best work when they don’t know what to expect from the leader. The cure is for leaders to be clear on their Leadership Point of View (LPOV). Your LPOV is your leadership philosophy. It’s a statement of why you lead, what’s important to you as a leader, what your team members can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Developing and communicating your LPOV lets team members “behind the curtain.” It shows vulnerability on your part to be real and authentic with team members and it creates tremendously high levels of trust.

Trust has been called the miracle triple-acting agent for organizations. It provides the lubrication that makes people, processes, and systems work more smoothly. It also acts as the bonding agent that brings people together, allowing them to collaborate effectively and achieve more together than they could as individuals. And trust also functions as the catalyst to spur the innovation and creativity that’s necessary to propel organizations to higher levels of success. So don’t underestimate the power of trust, and when you feel it’s lacking with your team, take a look in the mirror first. The problem may be staring back at you.

5 Freedom-Fostering Ways to Develop High Performing Teams

FreedomLast week I shared four ways to tell if you inspire freedom or fear in your team members. You can tell you’ve created a culture of freedom in your team if you see your people taking appropriate risks, speaking truth to power, readily admitting their mistakes, and sharing their heart with you.

What if your team doesn’t display those signs? Does that mean you’ve done something wrong? Not necessarily. In fact, you probably haven’t done anything wrong. The more likely scenario is you just haven’t devoted intentional effort to building the culture of your team. Now that you have an idea that things could be better, here’s a way to get started fostering freedom within your team to enable them to perform at their best.

1. Be trustworthy – The bedrock of any successful leader or team is trust. As Warren Bennis said, it’s the lubrication that makes organizations work. It’s the oil that keeps your team’s engine humming at its best, and without it, your team’s production will grind to a halt. A primary component of your leadership role is to model trustworthy behavior. It sets the tone for how you expect team members to treat each other. Building trust is a never-ending quest. It’s a journey, not a destination. For a primer on being a trustworthy leader, see The ABCDs of Leading with Trust.

2. Be open – To infuse your team atmosphere with a sense of freedom, it’s imperative that you lead with a philosophy of openness. You demonstrate openness by sharing information freely because you know people need information if they are going to act responsibly in their roles. Openness also means being forthright and genuine when you share information or interact with team members. You don’t spin the truth to manipulate the way team members interpret information, but you share the truth candidly and appropriately. Openness means your team members know there are no hidden agendas with you. What they see is what they get (you’re authentic).

3. Establish clear expectations – Fostering freedom within your team doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Freedom doesn’t mean a lack of responsibility or accountability. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means everyone is clear on the expectations for their role. It means they clearly understand what’s in their lane and what’s not. Freedom results because within the boundaries that have been established, team members have the full reign to operate according to their best judgment. If boundaries and expectations aren’t clear, it leads to people being hesitant to act, duplication of efforts, or even worse, someone dropping the ball because they assume the other person is supposed to be responsible. Clear expectations through the use of job descriptions, establishing key responsibility areas for positions, and setting SMART goals are all ways to clarify expectations.

4. Be receptive to others – You cultivate freedom in your team by actively seeking the input of others, truly listening to their ideas, and incorporating their feedback into your decisions and action plans for the team. This isn’t the same as being open, as I mentioned above. Think of openness as what you communicate out to the team, and think of receptivity as what you take in from the team. Team members want to be invested and display a sense of ownership if only leaders will give them the opportunity. Availability is a key aspect to being receptive, because you can’t be receptive if you’re in meetings eight hours a day and never available to connect with your team members. When they do bring ideas or input to you, listen non-judgmentally. Don’t instinctively look for all the holes in their ideas, but explore ways to make their ideas (or parts of them) work.

5. Don’t micromanage – You can excel at being the most trustworthy and open leader, set clear expectations and be receptive to the input of others, but if you micromanage your team to death, freedom will never gain a foothold. Micromanagement creates discouragement and resignation on the part of team members. It beats down the spirits of your people to the point where they “quit and stay” on the job. They’re physically present but not engaged in their work. They eventually develop the attitude of just doing the minimum amount of work acceptable and nothing more. If that’s the kind of team you want, then be my guest. Micromanage away! If it’s not the type of team you want, then avoid the temptation to over control. Your team will thank you for it.

Five ways to foster freedom in your team: be trustworthy, open, establish clear expectations, be receptive to others, and don’t micromanage. By no means an exhaustive list but a good start nonetheless. Practice these big five and you’ll be on your way to developing a high performing team.

Heart to Heart Talks – Three Steps to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

At the root of many of our interpersonal or team conflicts is a failure to communicate. Sometimes the problem is that information isn’t shared broadly enough and people become resentful because they weren’t included. Other times we say things that come out wrong and people are offended, even though we may have had good intentions behind our message. Regardless of how the situation was created, if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully address it, the miscommunication evolves into the “elephant in the room” that everyone knows is present but isn’t willing to address.

Recently I worked with a client where the elephant in the room had been present for nearly a year. The issue within this team had led to a fracture in what were previously very close relationships, had tarnished the team’s reputation within the organization, and was causing strife and turmoil that was affecting the team’s performance. Everyone on the team knew the elephant was in the room, but no one wanted to talk about it.

To break the communication logjam and get the team back on the path to restoring an environment of openness, trust, and respect, I used a facilitated discussion process called Heart to Heart Talks, adapted from Layne and Paul Cutright’s book Straight From the Heart. If the participants are committed to the health and success of the relationship, and approach this process with a desire to be authentic and vulnerable, it can be a powerful way to discuss difficult issues and allow everyone to be heard.

The process involves three rounds of discussions and the speaker and listener have very specific roles. The speaker has to use a series of lead-in statements that structure the context of how they express their thoughts and emotions. In order to let the speaker know he/she has been heard, understood, and allow additional information to be shared, the listener can only respond with the following statements:

  • Thank you.
  • I understand.
  • Is there more you would like to say about that?
  • I don’t understand. Could you say that in a different way?

The first round involves a series of “Discovery” statements designed to create openness among the participants and to learn more about each others’ perspectives. The speaker can use the following sentence starters:

  • Something I want you to know about me…
  • Something that’s important to me is…
  • Something that’s challenging for me right now is…

The second round comprises “Clearing” statements that allow for the release of fears, anxiety, stress, and to increase trust. The speaker can use the following sentence stems:

  • Something I’ve been concerned about is…
  • Something I need to say is…
  • A feeling I’ve been having is…
  • Something I’m afraid to tell you is…

The third round involves “Nurturing” statements that create mental and emotional well-being in the relationship. These statements allow the participants to put closure to the difficult issues that were shared and to express appreciation for each other that sets the stage for moving forward in a positive fashion. The speaker can use the following phrases:

  • Something I appreciate about you is…
  • Something I value about you is…
  • Something I respect about you is…

The facilitator can structure the process in a number of ways, but the important thing is to establish a rhythm for each round where the speaker gets a defined amount of time to share (using the lead-in statements) and the listener responds after each statement. It’s important for the listener to respond each time because it sets the proper rhythm for the discussion and validates the thoughts being shared by the speaker. The speaker should be encouraged to share whatever comes to mind without censoring his/her thoughts or saying what he/she thinks the other person wants to hear. If the speaker can’t think of anything to share, he/she can say “blank” and then repeat one of the sentence starters. Encourage the participants to keep the process moving and the thoughts will flow more quickly. At the conclusion of the three rounds, it’s important to close the discussion with a recap of the desired outcomes and any action items the participants want to pursue.

As “Captain”, the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.” That’s often the case when it comes to interpersonal or team conflicts, and using the Heart to Heart process can help people confront the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but is afraid to discuss.

%d bloggers like this: